2015 Projected Depth Analysis: D-Line

UCLA's defensive line projects to be one of the strongest units on the team for the next two years, which presents some different recruiting challenges than the staff may be used to...

With spring practice over, we now have a much clearer picture of what UCLA's talent and depth looks like across the board. On the surface, and through most of the starting positions, UCLA is fairly set through 2015 with high-level talent at most positions. More specifically, though, we've identified a few issues based off what we saw through April that could require adjustments to the recruiting strategy for the 2015 class and beyond.

We already covered the defensive backs and linebackers earlier this month. Now, we'll turn our attention to the defensive line, which is fairly set for the next two years, which presents some unique recruiting challenges for UCLA.

Projected Depth Analysis: Defensive Line

If you'd told a UCLA fan during the Dorrell era that within eight years or so the Bruins would have three Army All-Americans in the defensive line rotation, they'd probably wonder why the Army All-American game would get so devalued within eight years. The Bruins truly have a tremendous amount of talent on the defensive line, and are fairly set for each of the next two years in terms of the key cogs in the rotation. Even losing Owamagbe Odighizuwa after this year, the Bruins will still return Eddie Vanderdoes, Kenneth Clark, and Ellis McCarthy, all of whom may start at points this year, particularly when UCLA goes with a four-man front. If you then figure that out of Kylie Fitts, Matt Dickerson, Ainuu Taua, Jacob Tuioti-Mariner, Eli Ankou, and Kevin McReynolds, UCLA gets at least three major contributors, the Bruins should be in good shape through the 2015 season.

UCLA (and defensive line coach Angus McClure) has truly put itself in an enviable position; rather than having to plug in freshmen into a starting rotation every year, the Bruins are now in a position where the players they bring in this year will have the luxury of developing for a year behind the likes of Vanderdoes, McCarthy, and Clark.

Kylie Fitts.
For UCLA in general, the recruiting challenge now is much different from the one Jim Mora and company were faced with upon first arriving in Westwood. The task now is not drastically upgrading the talent, but smartly replacing the talent in the program so there's a seamless transition no matter who is lost year to year. If UCLA aspires to be a top ten program, building enough talented depth in the program such that the team doesn't take a step back in the next few years should be the goal.

The defensive line is a perfect test case for this new paradigm. As we said above, UCLA is in great shape for the next two seasons, with potential NFL talent at each position along the line, whether the team goes with a three-man front or a four-man front. It's not an absurdity to think that the defensive line could be the strength of the team for the next two years, even with the deep talent virtually across the board on the team.

The issue for UCLA is one that every other elite team has had to deal with: very talented players with NFL potential leave school early. In UCLA's case, Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenneth Clark are two obvious candidates who could forgo their final season of eligibility after 2015. So, after 2015, UCLA could lose Vanderdoes, Clark, and McCarthy — every projected starter on that 2015 team.

UCLA, at least on the defensive line, is no longer in the position where it needs to recruit for immediate needs. Yes, there is some playing time available for very talented freshmen next year, but they'll need to break into a rotation that includes some very talented players already. Instead, UCLA now faces two different challenges: recruiting for the long term (looking at what needs will be in 2016 and beyond and recruiting accordingly) and convincing high-level talent to come in when considerable freshman playing-time may be scarce.

There's an added wrinkle, of course, which is determining what type of defense will UCLA be running in two years. With new defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich already showing greater elasticity in scheme choice than his predecessor, there's a chance that UCLA could continue to run a varying-front defense that requires more defensive linemen. We'd have to suspect, though, that UCLA, which has already shown a propensity to adjust the schemes to suit the players, would adjust based off how many talented defensive linemen they are able to bring in. It will be interesting, though, to monitor how many defensive line prospects UCLA pursues and ultimately lands in the next two years (and what types of linemen they are), because it would give an indication of the long-term scheme preference for Ulbrich and the defensive staff.

UCLA has had defensive linemen drafted in each of the last two years, with Datone Jones getting picked in the first round in 2013 and Cassius Marsh getting picked in the fourth round in 2014. There's a good bet that Odighizuwa makes it three-for-three in Angus McClure's first three years on the job, and then the following years there's a chance that three UCLA defensive linemen get picked in the Draft, with both Vanderdoes and Clark potentially going very high. Quickly, UCLA, and McClure, are building a strong reputation for defensive line development at UCLA, and that track record, plus the natural advantages of UCLA in recruiting, could turn the defensive line into a perennial strength of the team.

2015 Depth Chart

Defensive End
Eddie Vanderdoes JR
Kylie Fitts JR
Matt Dickerson SO

Nose Tackle
Kenneth Clark JR
Ainuu Taua SO
Kevin McReynolds RS SR

Defensive End
Ellis McCarthy SR
Jacob Tuioti-Mariner SO
Eli Ankou RS JR

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